Imagine dialing around on the radio and stumbling across this utterly fried live session from The Incredible String Band late one night in 1968. Transmitted via Bob Fass’ legendary Radio Unnameable show, this is some seriously psychedelic free-folk, with Mike Heron and Robin Williamson delivering ecstatic visions and out-of-time tales. Rob Young, in his highly recommended Electric Eden, summed up the ISB best when he said the group “captured [the] elemental essence of music as an intimate rite in the flickering light, imparting sacred mysteries to rapt ears in the sapphire deep of night.” Radio Unnameable, indeed. Tune in. words / t wilcox
“You play that Blues Explosion album from last year a lot, so check this out.” That was Rob Green, a guy I clerked with in an Athens, GA record store in 1995. The record CD he was referring to was Boss Hog’s s/t second full-length. And like the Blues Explosion’s Orange and Extra Width before it, the album quickly entered regular rotation with “knock my teeth out, make way for gold” becoming something of an in-store, record nerd, mantra for the next several months. Ah, the 90s….
And now…they’re back. Made up of Jon Spencer and co-conspirator/wife Cristina Martinez, Boss Hog returns with Brood X, their first new album in 17 years. Out today via In The Red Records, we asked Spencer to run down some of his favorite garage and proto-punk moments for AD. As expected, his picks and thoughts on each are inspired. Jon Spencer, in his own words, below . . .
Let’s skip the more widely-known and acknowledged “masters” – The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, MC5, Suicide, and New York Dolls. Here are some of the other freaks! I tried to stick with bands that had little to do with the blues, rhythm & blues, and tradition – these are bands that found their own style, their own sound, their own way. This is in no way meant to be any sort of definitive list. It s purely subjective – just some of my faves.
YouTube links are included for easy reference but if you are curious please visit your local Mom & Pop independent record store and buy some music! Or pick up a guitar or synth or drum or kitchen utensil or piece of earth and make some noise!
Los Saicos, Demolition: 1965. Crazy surf-style punk from Peru: “Destroy the train station!”
The Monks, Complication: 1966. A German band comprised of ex-American GI’s (that had been stationed in Germany), The Monks wore robes and shaved tonsures into their hair and made uber-rock. All-rhythm, relentless, and wild. The Monks toured the German beat-club circuit relentlessly in the late 1960s, playing several shows a day, 7 days a week. Their one studio album Black Monk Time is great from start to finish: pounding drums, fuzz guitar & fuzz organ (a buddy of the band custom-bulit their fuzz-boxes & amps), banjo as rhythm guitar, and off-the-wall yet still political chants & hollers.
The Music Machine, Talk Talk: 1966. Along with the Chocolate Watchband (and The Seeds, see below) one of the the great California ’60s garage-punk bands. Unlike the Watchband I think these guys actually played their instruments in the studio, and all band members wore black turtlenecks and a black glove on one hand!. Driving beat, sharp turns, great fuzz – Talk Talk gets in and out and lays waste all in under 2 minutes.
The Seeds, Pushin’ Too Hard / Mr. Farmer: Most people know Pushin’ Too Hard (see goofy TV sitcom appearance) but I prefer Mr Farmer (1967) from their 2nd album Web Of Sound. The Seeds were led by the mystical and way-out-there Sky Saxon and their sound was dominated by Daryl Hooper’s heavy-handed keyboard style. Mr Farmer almost sounds like krautrock.
In 2016, the Frozen Reeds label issued his S.E.M. Ensemble recording of his composition Femenine. Featuring piano, reeds, violin, synthesizer, percussion, and mechanized sleigh bells (an invention of the composer himself) the performance was informally recorded live on Wednesday, November 6, 1974 at the Arts Center on the Campus of the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, New York. It wasn’t a stuffy affair; Eastman made soup to serve during the concert. Over 72 minutes, the ensemble offers up hypnotic sounds. Much of Eastman’s output explored his identity as a gay black man, often employing provocativetitles, and a confrontational approach.
But in the liner notes of Femenine, author Mary Jane Leach, co-editor of Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and his Music, says Femenine aspired to please listeners. Even if Eastman’s wearing of a dress and “the informality of the concert” gave some conservative members of the audience pause, there’s no denying the beauty and spirit of the recording. With it, Eastman conjures up “sounds like angels opening up heaven.” words/j woodbury
Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.
Guitar journeyman Daniel Bachman returns with his second Lagniappe Session. Fresh off his excellent 2016 self-titled album, Bachman’s proved himself one of the most nuanced guitarists in his field. Beyond its technical aspects, Bachman’s playing stirs deep feelings, as do the recordings here, of Lemuel Turner’s 1928 “Beautiful Eyes of Virginia” and a reconfiguration of Alan Wilson/Canned Heat’s “Blind Lemon.”
I went to Joe Bussard’s house a couple of weeks ago with my sister Sarah and he played this tune because I told him I like that kind of guitar music. Lemuel Turner was a steel guitar player who made four steel guitar solos for Victor Records in 1928 and to my knowledge this one has never been released since. John Troutman recently published new information on Turner and we now know he was from McComb City Mississippi. It’s also known that he served in World War I in France. He was severely injured from gassing, early chemical warfare, and spent six years in a San Francisco hospital. It was while Lemuel was here that he learned to play in this style. I think it’s a nice and unusual tune.
I have been trying to get this one tight for about a year now and got a recording of it on my phone recently. “Blind Al Blues” is the name I gave it because I thought the name “Blind Lemon,” which Alan Wilson calls it on the recording, doesn’t fit the way I’d like it to. And also I’m pretty sure he wrote this song, so why not name it after him? I got really into Alan after reading this great biography written by Rebecca Davis. Alan was born in Boston and grew up in the Arlington Heights neighborhood. He went from trombone to harmonica to the guitar, played with Fred Neil, penned the theory for Fahey’s thesis on Patton and was involved in early environmentalism, especially concerning the Redwood forests in Northern California, along with countless other contributions. Alan seems like he was a brilliant and complicated guy. There are two other songs from this same tape and the recordings are on YouTube and some German Canned Heat CD.
“You have to really want to be here,” Keith Abrahamsson says, overlooking the small West Texas town of Marfa.
We’re sitting on the deck of a stone and adobe house just off Highway 90, positioned atop a hill. Since 2014, the label Abrahamsson founded, Mexican Summer, has hosted the annual Marfa Myths festival here with arts nonprofit Ballroom Marfa. Initially a single performance at local venue El Cosmico, the gathering has bloomed into a four-day multidisciplinary happening, dedicated to blurring the lines between cinema, literature, art, and music.
Below us, a rooster crows and a couple dogs fitfully bark. Abrahamsson, wearing a denim jacket and faded Levis, leans back in his chair and considers my question: What keeps him coming back to Marfa?
“It’s kind of hard to articulate,” Abrahamsson says. “But it does feel like the town has this magical something. I don’t know if it’s the remote location, or the super-dramatic landscape and sky. There’s something about it that just has this seemingly magnetic pull. I don’t know how to articulate what about it gives you the feeling that it’s a special place, but it does have that quality.”
Marfa’s specialness is a reminder that there’s no such thing as “nowhere.” Despite its relative geographic remoteness — it’s located about six hours west of Austin and a three-hour drive from El Paso — Marfa feels alive in an indefinable way, pulsing with a vibrancy most small, mostly isolated communities in America can’t anymore, their industries and prospects dried up. Though regular injections of New Yorkers, Angelinos, and big city entrepreneurs — via festivals like Marfa Myths, the Marfa Film Festival, and the Chinati Weekend — bring clout and cash to the town, it’s not a hectic place. Which is precisely why everything feels so charming: Things happen here, at their own gentle pace.
Everyone loves a good origin story — it’s human nature. No matter the creative discipline such tales make even the most potent work seem more revelatory. Enter the late Japanese jazz pianist Ryo Fukui. An autodidact, Fukui taught himself piano at age 22 – just four years prior to the release of his exceptional 1976 debut lp, Scenery. Far from prolific, Fukui released just four more albums over the course of the next four decades…which brings us to A Letter from Slowboat.
Released a year prior to his death in 2016, Letter is a live album taking its name from the Slowboat jazz club in Sapporo, Japan. Comprised of recordings culled from performances at the club, the collection is as satisfying as it is hard to find outside of Japan. Thankfully there is YouTube where the record is streaming in full. Press play and let it wash you clean.
Helen Oakley Dance was a pioneering record collector, jazz writer, producer and promoter. During the 1930s, she promoted the first jazz “concert”, where pop music was first played to listen to rather than as a reason to dance, and the first multiracial jazz band. For her, promoting black musicians was a way of promoting civil rights. In an age of Beyoncé and the Grammys, of Black Lives Matter, of Kanye and Trump, her story, of music and equality, of Jim Crow and the rise of fascism, deserves to be more widely known.
By the time she spoke to Mark Tucker from the Yale Oral History of American Music project, Helen Oakley Dance’s memory was not as sharp as it once was, and she sometimes stumbled over her words. It was 1987, and she couldn’t remember exactly which song Duke Ellington had been playing when she cried, standing at the side of the stage, one evening in the 1930s. She began to talk about the musicians she had known back in Chicago, and became a little lost: “I used to write about Jess when he was playing in the cellar, and playing… getting off at eight a.m. in the morning, and nobody knew about him. And, also, there was a… the Chicago Rhythm Kings, or… My memory is poor, Mark.”
“It’s the thing when you don’t refer back to these same sets of things,” she said, “the names that you know very well escape you.” She called over to her husband, Stanley, whom she called Stanny. “We might need Stanny for some dates and some names, because…” Stanley, like Helen, was a respected jazz writer, particularly about Ellington. He’d first become well known in his native England, and had delivered the eulogy at Ellington’s funeral, but he deferred to Helen as the true pioneer, as a writer, producer, promoter, record collector, and civil rights activist: she “was there first”, he said, if people asked.